Events and Life Telecoms

Thoughts about the Seacom cable: what it isn't and what it can be

In a way our trip to Mtunzini to visit the Seacom landing station on 28 May 2009 was a great analogy for the Seacom cable’s impact on South Africa’s degree of connectivity to the Internet. It took us about 2 hours to fly from Johannesburg to Durban and back again and about double that amount of time in a bus travelling to the presentation in Ballito, the site itself and back to Durban International. Put another way, South Africa is poised to boost its bandwidth more than tenfold from its current capacity when the Seacom cable goes live in the coming months. This is a big thing for South Africa although it isn’t quite what the hype has led us to believe.

The hope has been that when someone flips a switch at the end of June 2009 we will see prices drop by an order of magnitude; we will all be able to view YouTube videos without buffering first; Telkom’s monopoly will be thwarted and we will have abundant bandwidth, government will operate efficiently and honestly and all will be right with the world. Unfortunately many of these hopes will be dashed and the immediate effect of the Seacom cable going live will be more gradually felt in South Africa.

That being said, the Seacom cable will eventually facilitate a very different Internet experience for a great many South Africans who should see prices for their data drop noticeably. There have already been a number of price reductions, probably in anticipation of Seacom’s arrival, so we can realistically expect prices to drop a further 40% or so from their current levels in the coming months and years. The shift to a fibre connection from a predominantly satellite connection should mean better quality connections which more technical people can explain using terms like latency and so on.

Aside from the eventual benefits, I found Seacom’s CEO Brian Herlihy’s talk about open access particularly appealing. While some of his presentation is what you would expect from a marketing pitch, he spoke quite passionately about how the Seacom cable’s tremendous bandwidth could help under-serviced communities leapfrog older connectivity options and reap the fruits of a high-speed Internet connection. He talked about communities in Rwanda laying fibre optics cables inland which will help transmit the cable’s 1.28tbps (terabits per second) to schools, villages and cities. This kind of connectivity could be the catalyst for an African Google and create a truly level playing field where Africans can better compete with the rest of the world.

Another thing the Seacom cable may well help achieve is a shift in mindsets about Africa and its data usage. Africa is apparently perceived largely as a “voice” market because data is traditionally too expensive for widespread adoption. The cable could help change this through reduced data prices. It also helps that the African countries who will be fed by the cable have committed to its success.

In South Africa powerhouses such as Tata, Neotel and Internet Solutions are “anchor tenants” and our mobile networks are in the process of establishing the infrastructure necessary to tap into this firehouse when it turns on. We may not see price reductions right away but the industry is definitely about to change dramatically. This degree of broadband will also mean a different experience of the Internet. As Herlihy put it, “real broadband is about dynamic media”, not just web pages and embedded videos.

There are a number of unrealistic expectations of the Seacom cable and, at the same time, a tremendous amount of promise. It will change our Internet consumption patterns (barring even more collusion from the networks and more rampant profiteering at any rate) and quite possibly change the South African economy itself.

Take a look at Mr Chetty’s post about the Seacom media event for more information about the trip and the cable itself while you’re reading about Seacom. Great post!

Mindsets Telecoms Web/Tech

First the work and then nothing …

I haven’t posted much the last few days and I was going to do some serious blogging yesterday afternoon to make up for it only to discover than some nitwit had cut my line completely (not even a dial tone). I called Telkom who has sent out a message to a technician who will hopefully sort it out in the next 2 days so until then my blogging will be a tag irregular.

Sorry about that!

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Mindsets Telecoms

DoC’s lip service to urgency

It seems our communications minister has a very strange concept of urgency. Hitting the wire* has a post that reveals that the minister is really just paying lip service to her stated goal of reducing telecommunications costs in South Africa and unbundling the local loop (the connection from the network to each home/business, also referred to as the “last mile”).

She uses feel-good extracts from the President’s State of the Nation address, but neglects to mention that in a recent interview with the Financial Times of London he said:

“The cost of telecommunications is unbelievably high”

She focuses on unbundling of the local loop (ULL), and states that it is “urgent”:

“I HAVE ALSO TAKEN THE POLICY DECISION that, given the complexity of local loop unbundling process on the one hand and the urgency for South Africa to enable all operators appropriately licensed to have access to the local loop on the other, the unbundling process in South Africa should be urgently implemented.”

but then states:

“The unbundling process should be completed by 1 November 2011.”

I think that sums up the problem for me.  4.5 years is considered “urgent”.

How could it possibly take over 4 years to unbundle the local loop. Why has it taken so long for the government to begin talking about reducing the costs of telecommunications in South Africa and improving access to true broadband? These are, of course, rhetorical questions. The most likely answer is that it is worth more money to the government to maintain the status quo rather than propel this country into the 21st century as a serious competitive force. So for the time being the government lies to us as we slip further and further behind the rest of the developing world in competitive terms. Haven’t these people read “The World is Flat“?

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Business and work Mindsets Telecoms

Hollard’s call centre that doesn’t really handle calls

Hollard Pay as You Drive.pngMy wife has a fascinating and highly entertaining story about her experiences with Hollard after I was involved in an accident in her car recently. I don’t want to steal her thunder (it is a really entertaining story) but this is the highlight for me:

“Its a call centre and as such its very difficult to get hold of a claim agent, but I will send him a message”

In case you are wondering, this is more or less what the call centre agent told my wife after being on hold for a long time. Basically, the people who are supposed to take calls through the call centre are really busy and are not actually taking calls. Instead some low level flunkies are answering the phone and purporting to take some sort of message which may or may not be forwarded to the person concerned. Maybe.


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Mindsets Telecoms

“Government monopolies in telecom will always destroy the value of the Internet”

Gregor just published a video interview with Prof Larry Lessig where Lessig comments on certain cultural issues and the very controversial telecoms policy our government is pursuing.

One quote stands out for me and that is the following:

… Government monopolies in telecom will always destroy the value of the Internet …

And this was just the warm up. The more I listen to outside perspectives the more infuriated I become about how myopic our government and Telkom are when it comes to the provision of telecommunications services in South Africa. As Lessig points out, our infrastructure is “backwards” because it is based on the creation of an all-powerful monopoly that dictates which services will be provided and when they will be provided. What we really need here in South Africa is an open playing field which facilitates innovation and competition and not the opposite.

Granted we have very few options at the moment but it is important to create more of an awareness of these issues. I have been ranting about Telkom and our telecoms infrastructure for quite some time now. I believe that meaningful access to the Internet should be recognised as a fundamental right in our Bill of Rights. In economic terms, access to the Internet is analogous to access to water (in my non-economist view), not a privilege to buy for ridiculous amounts of money.

My wife and I have noticed interesting looking posters on street poles advertising a service known as “do“. It turns out this is a Telkom offering and a shoddily put together offering at that. Hitting the wire has a post about the new service and it is a good example of loads of hype and promise designed to exploit the ignorance of its intended audience. This Apple-esque website promises downloadable music, movies, gaming and more and offers these wonderful things at the same time promoting crappy ADSL products with caps as high as 3GB (insert sarcastic “wow” here). This service is the equivalent of offering day old bread when all we have ever had is mouldy bread. Our appreciation for these wondrous services is little more than an expression of our Stockholm Syndrome. Put simply … it is all a sham. We are being kept ignorant of the norm in other countries where broadband is, at a minimum, megabit connections with far higher (or no) caps. Then, to add to the insult, we are expected to be grateful for what we get?

So the next question is what we are going to do about this? Are we going to do anything or are we going to sit around, grumble, pay up and get back to what we were doing?

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Mindsets Telecoms Web/Tech

“Telkom doesn’t have customers … it has hostages”

This video posted on Zoopy adds to the many voices speak out against Telkom. The video makes a good point: our apathy only benefits Telkom.

The problem, of course, is that until Neotel launches consumer services, there is no real alternative to Telkom. Sure there are mobile devices and mobile data is cheaper than before but even then it is still more expensive than a Telkom ADSL line. We are therefore hostages …

Of course we are all assuming that Neotel will offer some real products and services to tempt us away from Telkom. Let’s hope they don’t sink into the mediocrity mindset and offer marginally more than their competitor and actually exceed our expectations (which are pretty low, I think).

(Source: Zoopy blog)

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Neotel’s instant new infrastructure

I saw last night on ITWeb that Neotel has bought Transtel from Transnet for R230m. This acquisition gives Neotel a national footprint and long distance lines. I seem to recall that Transtel was one of the members of the consortium that created Neotel in the first place so this is probably a bit of housekeeping. The price really doesn’t seem all that high given revenue estimates in excess of R400m per annum. This is also the second purchase of an part of Transtel as Neotel purchased the telecoms infrastructure in Transtel for around R256m last year August which gave Neotel the boost it needed to jump into the enterprise space pretty quickly.

As for us consumers tortured by Telkom’s pricing structure and their lame Closer ads? We’ll probably only start to see services (voice and data) roll out in June or so. Holding thumbs they have a decent broadband offering for decent prices …

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People Social Web Telecoms

Enough with the Twitter updates …

Ask a Ninja says enough with the Twitter updates and something about 10 years.

I removed the video because the controls weren’t popping up and the auto play was driving me nuts

I had to share this with you all after a hectic last few weeks of awards and Twitter chatter.

(Source: the prolific Scoble)

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